Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pepper's Place - Cheesesteak in Hawaii

Perhaps no food item is so closely identified with a city as the Philadelphia cheesesteak. For the few who do not know what it is: it is thinly sliced steak cooked on a flat top grill and placed into a long roll (the one made by the Amoroso Bakery is de rigueur). Cheese is melted on top. Believe it or not, Cheese Whiz is the traditional topping. Grilled onions are also a traditional part of a cheesesteak. It is optional, and you order a sandwich "wit'" or "wit'out" onions.

Pat's the King of Steaks on Passuyunk Ave. in Philadelphia is the original. Pasquale "Pat" Olivieri invented the cheesesteak in 1930 and the family still owns the company. A relative of the family, Rick Olivieri, has his own version, Rick's the Prince of Steaks. Other well known places are Geno's (a location also on Passyunk Ave., catty corner from Pat's), Jim's, and Tony Luke's (who was featured on an episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown).

I had my first cheesesteak at the original Pat's several years ago. I ordered a "Whiz wit'," Cheese Whiz with grilled onions. It was an amazing experience. It is true what they say: no one ingredient is the key - it is the combination of meat, bread, cheese and onions working in complete harmony that makes the sandwich sublime.

I went back a few years ago to Rick's, when his place was in the Reading Terminal Market (he's now at the Food Court at the Bellevue). It wasn't quite as good as Pat's, but it was still excellent. Becky was with me on this visit, and she got provolone cheese, which is her preference to Cheese Whiz.

Here in Hawaii, I've had the cheesesteak at Zia's (it really isn't a cheesesteak - the bread is wrong, there is too much cheese and it's mozzarella, and they automatically add peppers; it's okay, but they shouldn't call it a Philly cheesesteak). There is a place on Kuhio Ave. in Waikiki that claims to have authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak, but it somehow fell short for me. Dave and Buster's has a cheesesteak that is surprisingly good, and actually could be the best one I've had in Hawaii.

This brings us to Pepper's Place in the Kailua Shopping Center near Times Market. Their logo proclaims it to have the world's best Philadelphia cheesesteak. I'm always skeptical when a place has to advertise that it is the world's best at something. It usually means it isn't. In fact, it often means it isn't very good at all.

In this case, Pepper's Place falls somewhere in between, although favorably so. They use an Amoroso roll, and the meat and onions are done well. They have their own proprietary blend of cheddar cheese and provolone (they claim that Cheese Whiz is too salty so they came up with this combination). This costs them some authenticity points, but I appreciate that they thought it out.

The verdict? I think that it is a good cheesesteak (you'll notice that I do not add Philadelphia to the description; I agree with a Philadelphia native in my church who says that you have to go to Philadelphia to get a Philadelphia cheesesteak), although not the world's best. It doesn't come together with the same harmony as Pat's or even Rick's, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Pepper's Place won't quite replace the memory of cheesesteak from Philadelphia, but it does ease the pain of being so far away from one of the definitive American sandwiches from the City of Brotherly Love.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Phileo is the Greek word for friendship or affection, aka brotherly love (hence, the first part of Philadelphia). It is one of a number of words in Greek for love. One of them is eros, or romantic love. Another is stergo, or familial love. Finally, there is agape, which is defined as Divine love or unconditional love or self-sacrificing love. Much of the time, subtlety is lost in translation from the original languages of the Bible into English.

For example, in John 21, Jesus and Peter have a conversation where Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" The first two times, Jesus asks, "Do you love (agape) me?" Peter responds "Yes, Lord, I love (phileo) you." The third time, Jesus asks, "Do you love (phileo) me?" And Peter says, "You know I (phileo) you." Scholars differ greatly in their interpretation of this change in words. It is clear to me, however, that Jesus has one expectation for loving him, and Peter has another. Perhaps it is that Peter isn't quite ready or not yet able to comprehend enough to embrace the kind of self-sacrificing for which Jesus asks. Over time, however, Peter does understand and embrace agape love. It is then that he truly experiences the depth of a relationship with Christ.

I think to love (agape) Jesus is a difficult concept. It happens over time. It becomes clearer as we learn more about Christ, especially His agape for us.

1 comment:

daren said...

You certainly know how to find the good eats Tom. I smell a food column coming in midweek windward edition- by Pastor Tom Choi!!! Keep up the fabulous work! PS. Don't forget the $5 off coupon found in the Entertainment Book!